Healthcare professionals interested in upgraded a facility’s approach to supply chain management are now faced with an array of options that include the dizzying complexity of cutting edge technologies. It can be difficult enough to stay on top of advances in the medical field without having to incorporate lessons on the Internet of Things (IoT) or the latest radio frequency identification (RFID) standards into the ongoing learning.
To get a better sense of how the most current tech options can aid in healthcare supply chain management, Surgical Products interviewed Wendy Werblin, senior manager of healthcare solutions at IMPINJ, a major manufacturer of RFID devices and software.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, can you explain the basics of RFID technology?
RFID uses radio waves to wirelessly track objects, such as apparel, medical supplies, automobile parts, food, and more.
RAIN RFID, one of the RFID standards and the fastest growing segment of the RFID market, is a passive, battery-free wireless technology system that connects billions of items to the Internet. In healthcare, providers use RAIN RFID to identify, locate, authenticate, and engage each item across a wide variety of applications, including tracking of medical devices and surgical supplies, patient safety, and supply chain management.
What questions should be asked before pursuing specific technological options?
When evaluating an IoT solution, you will want to evaluate each solution against your requirements, the completeness of each solution to address both your current and future needs, and the solution’s ability to support the specific requirements of healthcare technology.
As you scope your solution, you will need to determine how often you need the data about your items. For example, you may only need to know if a specific item is removed from an area. Or you may want to be able to know exactly where certain supplies are in real-time. Depending on what you are trying to track and when you need the data will determine which solutions are viable.
For an IoT solution you’ll want to consider both the hardware and software elements. You can bring together different components, but that presents new challenges around integration and optimization. A complete platform should have endpoints, which are chips attached to items, such as surgical supplies; the connectivity layer that uses readers and gateways to collect data from endpoints; and software that aggregates the data and presents information like the item’s identity, location and authenticity to the industry-specific software application. Finally, understand what benefits you gain from using a complete platform solution, where the endpoints, connectivity, and software are built together — oftentimes, by deploying a single platform you can gain better performance, readability, reliability, data integrity, and functionality.
Lastly, ensure the solution complies with healthcare specific laws by asking about UDI and HIPAA compliance. UDI is an FDA-mandated identification system for all medical devices, including patient IDs, walkers, implantable devices and pacemakers — to name a few.
What are the challenges in the technology that users should be prepared to work through?
RAIN RFID offers many benefits and advantages compared with other IoT technologies. There are several factors to consider both to identify the optimal solution and to design an implementation that is specific to your environment.
You’ll need to choose the right tag chip and tag form factor to place on your items and create what we call an endpoint. Then you’ll plan the number, layout, and placement of connectivity devices to best connect with the items you’re tracking and depending on the layout of building. You’ll need to make decisions related to how frequently and what type of data you want. Finally, you’ll need to develop expertise on the workflow you’re seeking to automate, so that the solution you implement helps to improve your process — not automate a bad one.
Healthcare providers will also need to choose the right solution providers and technology partners based on their depth of expertise and platform quality for healthcare supply chains.
How do you see this technology advancing with healthcare supply chain management in the future?
The value of RAIN RFID will continue to grow as organizations choose to locate, associate and track more items and utilize that data across more functions. The more advanced and widely used across patient care a solution is, the greater the volume of data collected and thereby a greater impact.
As hospitals face extreme pressure to reduce costs and comply with strict regulations, they need to improve how they measure efficiency and productivity of their supply chains. Not only does RAIN RFID help reduce waste and cost, it provides valuable, real-time metrics and analytics about the supply chain.
There are many ways healthcare organizations are utilizing RAIN RFID in the supply chain today. Healthcare asset management and optimization gives healthcare providers real-time information including medical equipment location, status, availability, usage history, and automatic alerts if equipment is removed from premises.
Surgical supply usage tracking automatically captures data about supplies consumed during surgical procedures and integrates the data with inventory, billing and surgical information systems. In addition to streamlining supply management, the system enhances patient care by ensuring timely availability of necessary supplies in the operating room which can reduce the likelihood of infections.
Hospital inventory management continuously tracks medical supplies within a hospital, monitoring entire supply rooms as well as individual supply cabinets and shelves and reducing staff’s valuable time to locate supplies. The system provides hospital staff with real-time inventory visibility throughout the health system and across the lifecycle of the supplies, including location, expiration dates, length of time in inventory, and movement of inventory from one supply location to another.
Medical supply and device tracking provides hospitals with a high level of visibility about the status, availability, and usage of clinical supplies and devices, and ensures accurate clinical documentation at the point of care. The technology also optimizes inventory composition, prevents waste, improves patient care through recall and expiration management, increases billing accuracy, and secures compliance with the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) regulation.
Anything else you’d like to add?
With RAIN RFID, healthcare providers can reduce or eliminate accidental loss of devices, manual processes, excess inventory, and waste from expired devices.
Healthcare organizations that are deploying RAIN RFID have found significant cost savings, efficient improvements and better patient care. When we ask where they go next, they want to deploy RAIN RFID to new areas of the organization, new solutions and increase the number of items tagged. We are excited about the future and how RAIN RFID is positively impacting businesses and people’s lives.